How to Leverage Journaling for Creative Work

I first got into journaling at school. I mention this because I’ve seen people mock journaling. I’ve seen people say, “Turning in a notebook is nothing like the way things work in the real world.” I’m pretty sure I’ve criticized bad student blogging as being nothing more than “digital journaling.”

However, great journaling is something flexible and powerful. And for me, as a senior in Ms. Waller’s class, my interactive notebook was a place where I found my voice and wrestled with what I believed about the world. I fell in love with the journaling process.

I have spent the last sixteen years of my life keeping a journal. It is a critical part of the creative process — whether it involves writing a story or building a technology platform. It’s also where I reflect on how things are going and remind myself of what matters. It is a non-stop dance between curiosity and creativity.

There are no rules, no formulas, no recipes.  That’s kind-of the point. A journal is like a playground for the mind. It’s a messy sandbox where you get to make and explore. However, here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Choose an audience of one. The cool thing about writing for yourself is you can be bold. You can make glorious mistakes that nobody sees. You’re not shipping it anywhere. Jot down ideas of things that sound crazy. Collect your scraps of thoughts on that novel that feels ridiculous.
  • Use it for more than just words. Doodle wherever you feel like it. Draw arrows. Make diagrams. Create little icons. The beauty of a notebook is in the simplicity of the medium. You’re not constrained by a complex user interface. The lack of options makes it a blank canvas for creative work. So make mind-maps and webs and flow charts. Sketch out cartoons. Write out some lines of poetry.
  • Keep an area for practical stuff. When I’m working on a specific project, I find myself thinking about practical things that I might need to do. So, I have a specific area of my journal labeled “Crap that needs to get done.” I add to that list so that I won’t be distracted while I journal.
  • Carry it everywhere. I’ve learned that it can seem rude to bust out a laptop in the midst of a meeting. But a journal? That just looks studious and old school.
  • Go cheap. I remember buying an amazing Moleskine journal and I couldn’t touch it. When I wrote something, it was stilted. I didn’t doodle anywhere. Even my handwriting changed. It became quasi-legible. This is the same phenomenon I experienced as a kid when someone gave me a fancy art kid. Suddenly I couldn’t
  • Journal daily. Journaling is a habit for me. But it didn’t start out that way. It began as a habit formed in school and then continued into college.
  • Treat it like a dumping ground for ideas. In other words, don’t treat it like a diary. I use my journal to plan out projects, write poetry, craft stories, and reflect on how I’m doing. It’s also where I keep lists, such as podcasts I want to check out, books I want to read, or random topics I want to study. I love the concept of the Five Minute Journal but for me journaling is much more flexible. It’s the messy area where creativity happens.
  • Create your own organizational strategy. I number each page in my journal and keep an index at the back. I also have a specific spot for lists of things I want to check out (topics, books, movies, podcasts, etc.) I’ve seen other people who have a left side / right side process.

My final thought is this: just go out and buy a notebook. Get a cheap composition book and a few decent pens. Then have fun. Run wild. It’s a playground.

CREATIVE PROCESS

Here are some free resources I’ve developed that you might find helpful:

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

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